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(Enlarge) Meta Shaw, project chairwoman, Gen. George G. Meade Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, displays one of the 68 hatchlings confirmed on post this year. The number of confirmed hatchings for 2009 is more than double what it was in 2008 and quadruples the number of ducklings confirmed in 2007.

For the third consecutive year, members of the Gen. George G. Meade Chapter of Ducks Unlimited have had success in hatching wood duck eggs on Fort Meade.

The Fort Meade chapter of Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to helping maintain an environment where wood ducks can have a better chance of survival. As humans continue to encroach upon their natural resources, it is getting harder and harder for wood ducks to find natural nesting areas.

The chapter joined together in support in 2007 with the help of Boy Scout Troop 377 by erecting wood duck boxes.

Meta Shaw, project chairwoman of the Fort Meade Ducks Unlimited initiative, and Col. Robert Shaw, former Asymmetric Warfare Group commander, were found walking through the swampland on post with their chocolate Lab "Mocha" almost every weekend. From March through July, they carefully inspected the wood duck boxes.

So far, the totals have gone up and even though this is a small project compared to some in Maryland, it is producing young wood duck chicks as part of the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative.

Inspections are completed weekly and notes are carefully taken to describe the amount of down cover, weather conditions, number and types of eggs in the boxes, as well as other data that may help conservationists understand more about the wood duck. The results and best practices are shared by others in the MWDI program to learn more about these ducks and increase the success rate, with annual reports filed with both the MWDI and Fort Meade Environmental Office.

"For various reasons, not all the eggs hatch, but the success rate has been outstanding as the project finishes up its third year," Meta Shaw said.

The wood ducks began laying their eggs in early March and, about 30 days later, hatched their ducklings. Wood duck hens continued to occupy the boxes and lay eggs over the next few months into the end of June, she added.

This year, 68 ducklings were hatched in the boxes on Fort Meade, up from 2007 when there were 59 eggs laid with 28 confirmed hatches and 2008 when only 16 chicks were confirmed.

Some of the success is due to the boxes installed on Fort Meade, which are designed to be attractive as nesting sites for wood ducks and to discourage predators.

Sharing of the wood duck box by other birds is common. In the past, Hooded Merganser eggs have been found in the post boxes along with wood duck eggs, which is always a bonus.

The importance of projects like this one is to help maintain a balance of nature and the effects of mankind.

Young ducklings, as well as older ducks, are often harmed by people who don't understand how fragile these ducks really are. For instance, the feeding of ducks has always been a summer pastime for children. But this practice can be very harmful, especially for young ducklings. Most people don't know that ducks are extremely sensitive to mold toxins, which can be produced from bread or crackers not eaten right away and found a few days later by a hungry duck.

Furthermore, many people do not realize that a diet of white bread can be fatal to waterfowl. When the birds gorge themselves on bread, they stop eating their natural foods, which are much more nutritious. The birds become malnourished and can also choke on wads of bread. You can help by encouraging others to not feed the ducks.

This Ducks Unlimited project on Fort Meade has been a great success and we look forward to next year's hatch. Organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative and hard work by the Boy Scouts, along with the cooperation of the Fort Meade leadership, are making a difference.

Conservation is something we can all take part in, and the future of these little ducklings is proof that it pays off.

For more information about Ducks Unlimited, the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative, and the Boy Scouts of America, visit the following Web sites: www.ducks.org, www.mwdi.net/mwdi/index.asp and www.scouting.org.

Shaw is the chairman of the Gen. George G. Meade chapter of Ducks Unlimited.

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